MASERU – For so many years, Khubetsoana All-Stars have been the standard bearers of the National Basketball League (NBL).
Over the past decade one strong contender after another has come and gone and all the while KTA All-Stars have been ever-present atop the NBL standings. The names and faces – from Ratšolo Molupe to Sekhoane Moshabesha to Molale Monnapula – have largely remained constant as well and that constancy has translated into an unprecedented run of success in Lesotho’s basketball top-flight for the Khubetsoana ball-club.
Champions in 2014, finalists in 2015 and champions again in 2016, KTA have dominated the NBL and their three titles since 2012 are the most over that span.
It is that steady quality that has come to define the club and it is why last weekend’s NBL semi-final playoffs exit at the hands of Lerotholi Polytechnic was so shocking. It wasn’t just that KTA lost to a Fokothi team that only scraped into the playoffs by finishing fourth in the regular season league standings but the way in which KTA lost.
For a team that has always found a way to win through their experienced, methodical style of play, KTA looked befuddled against a hungrier Lerotholi side on Sunday at Lehakoe to lose 60-52 in Game 2 of the best-of-three semi-final series. That defeat coupled with last Saturday’s 72-65 upset in Game 1 meant KTA lost the series 2-0 and, after falling to Bokamoso South at the same stage last year, this marks the first time KTA will be absent from the NBL finals for two successive years.
That fact by itself raises a simple question: is this the end of an era for KTA?
“Locally, we are still better than any other team,” KTA veteran point guard Molupe insisted when asked about the team’s future prospects.
“We are still confident that we are the deepest team even though we could not win.”
Molupe, one of the club’s captains, is the right person to speak to because he has been at the heart of KTA’s success this past decade and it is unsurprising that he remains bullish. However, one thing was clear from the weekend’s exit to Lerotholi – the KTA needs to reinforce.
Even Molupe admitted as much.
Being experienced in the young man’s game that is the NBL is an advantage over a long season where consistency is valuable but, in win or go home situations like the playoffs, age can be a problem; ultimately KTA were also overwhelmed by Lerotholi because their squad was thinned by players having “life” commitments such as work, for example.
As Molupe put it, “The fact that we have mature players with age and life engagements and employment commitments sabotages us. We ended up going to the playoffs with seven players instead of the full squad of 12 because most of our players had engagements.”
He continued: “In Game 1 we lost the game with a few seconds left (in the game) and we went in to the second match under massive pressure while our opponents were highly motivated and had no pressure. On top of that we used all our energy to fight for that Game 1. So in Game 2 all our energy was drained and we were short of players.”
With their semi-final letdown in mind KTA are already wheeling and dealing to bring in reinforcements.
“We have a new addition (named) Tefo Mosala from Leseli (Tigers) who will help us a lot defensively, meaning we are going to be improved,” Molupe said. “We have another new player, Thabang Glass, with a lot of experience; he played for the national team and in professional leagues in South Africa,” he added.
The signings are needed because there are new powers in local basketball. The other NBL playoffs semi-final features reigning champions Bokamoso South, who are looking to make their third finals in a row, and Lichocha Shooting Rifles who were runners up to Bokamoso last year.
Both clubs have a focus on youth and they employ the exact up-tempo style that has proved too much for KTA All Stars in the playoffs for the past two years.
It is obvious, therefore, that KTA will have to adapt or die in the NBL food-chain and it is clear they need a squad that can compete all year round.
Encouragingly for their supporters, KTA appear willing to face the challenge head on.
“KTA is called All-Stars because all players are stars,” Molupe said.
“Well done to Lerotholi for winning but I believe we will be back to our normal best. We are out of the (NBL) championship but we are preparing for the Swaziland Invitational International Tournament next month.” Unfair or not, KTA’s performance in Swaziland will again be a referendum on where the club stands because the simple truth is that all good things must come to an end someday.
The journey has brought KTA here and now this next chapter of the club’s storied history will reveal if this is indeed the end of an era or if KTA All-Stars can continue to lead the way in Lesotho’s basketball elite.
Rabale eyes Champions League glory
Lesotho women’s team captain Boitumelo Rabale has her eyes on winning her second CAF Women’s Champions League with Mamelodi Sundowns as the tournament gets underway this weekend.
The third edition of the prestigious women’s club football is scheduled for Ivory Coast from November 5-19, where eight clubs will battle it out to be crowned Queens of the continent.
“Queen”, as the Lesotho star is commonly known, was part of the Sundowns squad that was crowned champions of the inaugural edition of the tournament held in Egypt two years ago, becoming the first player from the Mountain Kingdom to taste Champions League success.
She has become one of the key players in Jerry Tshabalala’s squad having walked away with the Hollywoodbets Player of the Season in the previous campaign and currently leads the goal-scoring charts with 21 goals.
“It was exciting to win the CAF Women’s Champions League with Sundowns two years ago and in the process becoming the first player from Lesotho to do so,” Rabale said.
“I felt very lucky and honoured to make history. It gave me confidence to continue working hard and strive for more success with the club”
Sundowns head to the tournament as regional champions after clinching the COSAFA qualifiers to qualify for the continental showpiece, where they will kickstart their campaign against Tanzania’s JKT Queens on Sunday.
Rabale admitted that memories of losing the last final to AS FAR still haunts them, but they head to Ivory Coast a better team than in the last tournament.
“We learnt the hard way when we lost in the final to AS FAR and we come back a better team having rectified our mistakes.
“It’s our dream to conquer the continent again and I have no doubt that we have what it takes to get our second star in Ivory Coast.
“It will be very good to add the second CAF Champions League medal to my trophy cabinet,” she said.
The 27-year-old has been prolific for Sundowns this campaign having scored nine goals in her last five matches to take her tally for this campaign to 21 goals.
Sundowns are in Group A alongside tournament hosts, Athletico Abidjan, Sporting Casablanca of Morocco, as well as Tanzania’s JKT Queen.
Since joining Sundowns in 2021, Rabale has won the Hollywoodbets Super League twice, the COSAFA Zonal qualifiers twice as well as the CAF Women’s Champions League and is the reigning Hollywoodbets Player of the season.
Red Skins fail to raise funds for championship
Lesotho volleyball giants Red Skins have failed to raise funds for the 2023 Zone 6 Senior Indoor Volleyball Club Championship they are set to host in December.
Red Skins will host the competition together with four other local volleyball clubs – Lesotho Defence Force (LDF), Lesotho Mounted Police Station (LMPS) and Rivers – and the tournament is expected to start on December 7 and end 10 days later.
Without any funds or sponsors coming in, Red Skins will have to foot the bill from their pockets for the tournament which will see teams from 10 countries converge on Maseru.
Among the participating nations, Botswana is expected to bring the biggest contingent with 12 teams, with Zambia following closely behind with nine teams while Zimbabwe is set to be represented by six teams.
Two weeks ago, Red Skins participated in the Elite Cup in Gauteng, South Africa, which was hosted by Aqua Darshan Volleyball.
Red Skins hoped to win the tournament and return home with a hefty jackpot but they only collected M5 000 which was won by the men’s team.
A gala dinner that Red Skins hosted last weekend also failed to generate income due to low attendance and speaking to thepost on Tuesday, the club’s vice-captain, Moleboheng Mofolo, said they will have to push on with what they have to host the tournament.
Mofolo said they no longer have time to come up with other means to raise funds.
“Tournaments will require us to find sponsorships and we do not have time now, we have to focus and train well,” Mofolo said.
“Our coach already told us to camp from this week but rain is our biggest challenge because we cannot continue with the training,” she added.
Mofolo said Red Skins are fortunate that participating teams are going to take care of their accommodation and catering. She said if Red Skins had to provide those services, they would not have been able to manage.
She pleaded with individuals, organisations and companies to help the team, whether it is by offering accommodation, food, or whatever little they may have.
Giants avoid each other in Top 4 clash
Women Super League (WSL) giants Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) Ladies and Kick4Life Ladies have avoided each other in the WSL Top 4 knockout competition.
The two-day showpiece takes centre stage this weekend at Bambatha Tšita Sports Arena and it will see last season’s top four finishers in the league – LDF, Kick4Life, Lijabatho and Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) Ladies – go head-to-head for bragging rights.
The draw for the competition took place last Friday and the semi-finals will see LDF go up against Lijabatho while Kick4Life will take on LMPS Ladies.
Both semi-finals will be played on Saturday with the tournament culminating the following day.
Sunday’s proceedings will kick-off with a third-place playoff game to determine who walks away with the bronze medals before the final later in the day.
All four games over the two days will be streamed on the FIFA+ website and the WSL Top 4 will usher in a new sponsor this year.
In the past, the Lesotho Football Association (LEFA) fully bankrolled the competition, however, Computer Business Solutions (CBS) has come on board with a sponsorship for the first time.
The competition’s prize monies have not been revealed because they are still being finalised, but, speaking at last Friday’s draw, LEFA’s associations secretary general, Mokhosi Mohapi, said the relationship with CBS is one that sport should engage in.
Mohapi added his hopes that the relationship will be a long-term one.
“While others are busy at their thing, we should really grow ours so that when their distraction finally ends, they find us as united as we can be as the football community,” Mohapi said.
“(We should be) united by the efforts and inputs that emanate from the business community, especially when it is a truly Lesotho business entity because other (foreign entities) are here to take money,” he said.
Addressing CBS as the tournament’s sponsor, Mohapi said: “We are thankful as LEFA for your initiative; (we) hope you will be in this marriage quite long. We know we are just testing the waters but we have a lot that can entice you to stay longer, not only my command but the instruments that we have.”
Mohapi said LEFA’s dream is that in two years’ time all league matches will be streaming on the FIFA+ platform which was launched last April by football’s world governing body to increase exposure of men and women’s football around the globe.
Currently, only three grounds in the country have the structures for broadcasting; Bambatha as well as the grounds at LDF and Lesotho Correctional Service grounds, and all are in Maseru.
LEFA plans to add more grounds to the list with the DIFA facilities in Maputsoe and Mohale’s Hoek set to be the first to follow suit.
“All our women’s competitions, cup competitions and (Vodacom) Premier League matches that will be played in those stadia that have our infrastructure – we will be able to stream those games internationally,” Mohapi said.
“We have extended our footprint,” he added.
“We are now doing LDF – we have already put up the structure – then we are moving to Maputsoe and, hopefully, Mohale’s Hoek. It is our desire that in two years’ time we will hopefully cover all the matches and put them on the FIFA+ streaming platform.”
WSL Top 4 fixtures:
Lijabatho Ladies vs. LDF Ladies
LMPS Ladies vs. Kick4Life Ladies
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